The Politics of Gay Marriage (Powers, Part 2)

pogoSo what is the Christian to do with these powers, rulers, and authorities? Serve them or defeat them?

Richard Beck offers a third alternative based on his reading of Hendrik Berkhof’s Christ and the Powers (translated by John Howard Yoder).

To begin, Berkhof makes the argument that the mere existence of the church is an act of defiance and resistance to the Powers. Resistance occurs where there are people confessing Jesus as Lord of all in the face of the Powers. Berkhof:

[T]he very presence of the church in a world ruled by the Powers is a superlatively positive and aggressive fact…All resistance and every attack against the gods of this age will be unfruitful, unless the church is resistance and attack, unless she demonstrates in her life and fellowship how men can live freed from the Powers.

To resist the Powers means that the church is to exhibit in her life the rule and reign of Jesus Christ over against the “gods of this age.” In her life the church rejects the Powers of mammon, nationalism, injustice, prejudice, and oppression. These Powers are unmasked, delegitimized and rejected in the church as she confesses Jesus as Lord of all. 

In confessing and living under the lordship of Jesus in the face of the Powers the church “builds a new world in the shell of the old.” The church isn’t seeking the overthrow and eradication of the Powers but is, rather, creating locations where the legitimacy of the Powers is routinely questioned and where new patterns of social, moral, political and economic relations are established under the lordship of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. And when this happens, when the territory of the Powers is circumscribed in the world by the existence of the Kingdom of God, the church creates a crisis for the Powers:

Just by being simply the church, she is the instrument whereby Christ brings to crisis the rule of the Powers even far outside her borders.

Again, the Revelation presents exactly this narrative. The church does not go to war with the Beasts but endures by being faithful — and God defeats the Beasts. The church is to be faithful “unto death,” that is, even at the price of martyrdom.

But why would the powers wish to see the Christians dead? Well, because to Christians, it’s better to serve God than man, meaning that the very presence of the church declares the powers less than omnipotent. The church refuses, even at the price of death, to let the powers have their way when they usurp the proper role of God.

In today’s world, we see the rulers of China — who claim absolute sovereignty — threatened by the very existence of the church solely because Christians do not give absolute loyalty to the state. They may be excellent citizens, absolutely unwilling to bear arms against their despotic overlords, but they would rather die than treat the nation’s leaders as higher than God. And to the rulers of China, this is intolerable.

In the United States, we see the same trends — not as overtly but in what is perhaps a much more dangerous way. During WWI, the Churches of Christ were largely pacifists, and the Gospel Advocate pursued an anti-war editorial policy. The federal government threatened to jail the publishers of the Advocate if they continued to write against the war, and so the Advocate stopped publishing for the duration of the war.

Since then, the Supreme Court has adopted a much stricter view of the First Amendment, and the courts would not tolerate such threats against a publisher today — but 100 years ago, the government claimed the power to limit the speech of a Christian publisher. And the Beast won that battle. (And a Church of Christ-affiliated college closed its doors under threat of prosecution for the same reason.)

Today, the Beasts are much more clever. The political powers in this nation co-opt the church by giving it a place at the table. Thus, the black churches invite black politicians to fill their pulpits in exchange for supposed influence over the politician’s policies. The white churches provide volunteers and voters and money for their candidates in exchange for supposed influence over the political process.

As a result, the black churches cannot proclaim the sinfulness of abortion as well as they would like for fear of losing influence with the Beast. For fear of losing influence with the Beast, the white churches cannot proclaim the sinfulness of laws that oppress the poor (consider, for example, the impact of farm subsidies on the price of food) or unjust, foolish wars (Syria comes to mind: why aren’t the mainline churches that protested Republican wars protesting this one? Why aren’t the evangelical churches upset over the creation of so many sojourners, fleeing death at the hands of the Beasts?).

And yet neither the white nor the black churches have had much influence over the government that I can see. Abortion is still legal. The poor are getting poorer. More and more people are out of work and dependent on the government for support. It’s a failed strategy. After all, if you can’t credibly threaten to vote for the other guys (or sit home), you are owned by the political party you’re afraid to leave. We have enslaved ourselves in the name of freedom.

Today’s church has largely sold itself to the political parties for a pot of porridge — which hasn’t been delivered. We’re supposed to be willing to die for our principles, but not only would we rather close our papers and colleges than confront the powers that oppose Jesus, we’ve joined hands with the powers to assist them in doing evil.

And then we declare from the pulpit that the US is a Christian nation — to justify having sold out to a nation-state.

Berkhof’s solution is quite different.

Berkhof argues that we must “Christianize” the Powers. …

By “Christianizing” the Powers Berkhof means shrinking them down to size. Again, the Powers serve legitimate functions in staving off general chaos and social disintegration. Cultures, value systems and social contracts (laws, politics) have some positive functions. But they only function well when they are, well, functionaries, tools of service that aid human flourishing.

The problem is that the Powers are now ascendant and “in charge” of the world. Humans are serving the Powers–nations, religions, corporations, “our way of life”–rather than the Powers serving us. The created order has been reversed. In the language of Paul we have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” As creatures we are worshiping other created things, things we ourselves made, things like America. We built America and now we worship it, live for it, die for it and kill for it. We built this corporation and now we worship it, live for it, die for it and kill for it. We built this religious denomination and now we worship it, live for it, die for it and kill for it. …

So the way you “Christianize” these Powers, according to Berkhof, [is] to knock them off their thrones, to shrink them back to their proper size, to return to them to their proper function as servants of the greater good. Berkhof’s summary of this:

From this discernment there springs forth a basically different way of dealing with creaturely reality. The Holy Spirit “shrinks” the Powers before the eyes of faith. They may have inflated themselves to omnipotent total value systems, but the believer sees them in their true proportion, as nothing more than one segment of creation, existing because of the Creator, and limited by other creatures…In faith life is seen and accepted in its smallness and modesty…

That [the Powers] are “Christianized” means they are made instrumental, made modest; one could even say “neutralized.”… [T]he Powers are relativized, made modest. They no longer pretend to offer an inspiring center for all of life…[The church strives] to neutralize the Powers and de-ideologize life…

Of course, that would require that we keep our colleges open, our publishing houses publishing, and our preachers preaching against the errors of the powers. Rather than asking which candidate to support, we might better ask which policies are anti-Kingdom, oppress the poor, create poverty, or create million-person masses of refugees.

It’s a good thing to take in refugees, but far better to insist that the powers stop creating refugees.

Notice how little is being said by Bernie, Hillary, Donald, and Ted about the immorality of leaving millions of Syrians homeless. They are happy to argue about whether we should grant 10,000 Syrians refugee status in the US, because the voters — even the Christian voters — have been trained to think about war solely in terms of its impact on us. So long as we don’t lose many of “our boys” in the war, and so long as we aren’t overwhelmed with refugees, war is just fine. The price paid by others is not our concern. And this serves the needs of the Beasts quite nicely.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to The Politics of Gay Marriage (Powers, Part 2)

  1. Gary says:

    Our failure to provide a sanctuary for any appreciable number of refugees is reminiscent of the years leading up to WW2 when we refused to allow any significant number of European Jews to come to the US. It’s a sad situation when the states with supposedly the greatest concentrations of Bible believing Christians are the states that have taken the most adamant stand against accepting Syrian refugees.

  2. Christopher says:

    I just saw this news story, which again shows how foolish (willfully stupid) are our federal courts:

    http://fox13now.com/2016/04/11/federal-appeals-court-tosses-sister-wives-lawsuit-over-utahs-polygamy-ban/

    If you redefine the traditional definition of marriage to permit homosexuals to marry, you cannot logically deny polygamists the same “right”. Even Sotomayer recognizes that. Indeed, polygamists actually have a religous and historical basis for their claims where homosexuals did not.

    It is interesting that the appeals panel, rather than deal with the implications of the Supreme Courts’s pretzel logic on this issue, claimed the litigants did not face a real danger of prosecution since the state AG has sworn in under oath to not do so. And what about the next AG, Einsteins?

    I hate when people willfully ignore the illogicality of their views or behavior, because that is one of the things that prevents them from repenting.

  3. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    It’s a good thing to take in refugees, but far better to insist that the powers stop creating refugees.

    I agree with much of what you wrote in this column, Jay. But one thing that disturbs me about candidates like Kasich is their confusion of Christianity with government. Jesus no where taught that Caesar should feed the poor, clothe the naked or heal the sick. He taught that individuals – you and I – are to do that. Compelling people to provide for the needy at (ultimately the point of a gun) is decidely anti-Christian. Kasich shrugs his shoulders over abortion and gay rights, but then cites our Christian obligation as a nation through the government to help the needy.

  4. Johnny says:

    One comment on refugees, it is estimated to be 13 times more expensive to care for refugees in the US vs caring for them in the region. If we truly wish to care for refugees via governmental action (prefer that we do not contribute to their existence) the most effective manner is to do so with local governments in the region. Those numbers are the estimates provided to our congressional office. It is also safer to residents of the US unless we can effectively screen those coming in to the country.

  5. Christopher says:

    Speaking of politics and the “LGBT” community, one very maddening thing is the militancy and nastiness of those in that group towards people who criticize them. Jesus criticized people left and right because they needed to hear that. Criticize someone in that community and observe the resultant vitriol:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/433896/trans-activists-identity-politics-ian-mcewan-lgbt-orwellian-1984

  6. Christopher says:

    Johnny wrote:

    If we truly wish to care for refugees via governmental action (prefer that we do not contribute to their existence) the most effective manner is to do so with local governments in the region. Those numbers are the estimates provided to our congressional office. It is also safer to residents of the US unless we can effectively screen those coming in to the country.

    Well said.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher,

    I partly agree. Without a doubt, the NT emphasis is on individual charity. But the Torah required that part of the tithe go to support fatherless, widows, and sojourners. Deu 26:9-13. The tithe was a gross receipts tax, and some of it went to provide welfare for the poor. Individual generosity through gleanings, forgiven loans, etc. was also commanded. It wasn’t either-or but both-and.

    Under the NT, Jews were already under this system, and Jesus never criticized it or changed it. But, of course, in pagan cities, the Jews and Christians had no power to levy taxes for any reason. Hence, private charity was the only means they had to care for those in need.

    On the other-other hand, in Israel, everyone was God’s son and the tithes were paid by God’s followers — even though imposed by the government. There was no exaction of charity from unwilling pagans.

    But on the other-other-other hand (I need four arms), in the modern US, the cost of welfare would bankrupt every church we have. But we wouldn’t need so much welfare if the church was more truly the church and Christian parents raised their children to be Christians. A lot of poverty (not all) results from antisocial behavior that Christians are taught to avoid. To some extent, the welfare state creates the need for welfare.

    So we really don’t know what things would be like if we had only private charity. It would be a very difficult transition. I mean, just consider your home town. How much of the local welfare burden, Food Stamps, affordable housing, disability benefits, free school lunches, Medicaid, etc. could the churches in town take over from the gov’t? Could private charity do a better job? Without a doubt. Would it be enough? Well, not until society is dramatically changed.

    So I kind of come down in between — a mix of gov’t and private charity — with private charity done in the name of Jesus according to NT standards — that is, if there’s work to be had, and you are able, you have to work.

  8. Christopher says:
  9. Gary says:

    “A lot of poverty (not all) results from antisocial behavior that Christians are taught to avoid.”

    Jay, you’re better than this. I doubt there is any correlation between “antisocial behavior” and poverty but, if there were, it would reflect poorly on conservative Christians and Evangelicals. The most religious states have the highest crime rates, divorce rates, abortion rates and substance abuse rates. In contrast, the more secular states like Oregon and Vermont rank lower in practically everything that is good to rank low in. Statements like this one that you have made cannot be supported empirically and contribute to the un-Christian connotation that the poor are to blame for their poverty. Did Jesus ever say one word that would feed into that type of thinking? No, Jesus called the poor and all of “the least of those among us” his own family. Some poor may be responsible for being poor but we should never generalize and support prejudicial notions about the poor.

  10. Christopher says:

    Gary wrote:

    The most religious states have the highest crime rates, divorce rates, abortion rates and substance abuse rates.

    Really? Where did you read that? Let’s see your evidence. Cities will rank highest in all of those categories (as opposed to rural areas), and the many of the biggest cities are in more secular states like California, New York, Illinois and so on. Indeed, it is not even appropriate to speak of “religious states” any more given the widespread decline in morals. Furthermore, religious does NOT mean Christian. There is, in fact, a strong correlation between bad behavior and poverty and a strong correlation between bad parenting and bad behavior – which I believe was Jay’s point.

  11. Gary says:

    Please let me be the first to point out that my statement about religious and secular states could not be more wrong except perhaps for divorce. My overall point about not stigmatizing the poor is still valid though I think.

  12. Johnny says:

    Gary pointing out that some actions lead to poverty is stigmatizing the poor, in fact it might be the most loving thing we can do to prevent some poverty. Getting an education, getting married, staying married, not having children before marriage, avoiding substance abuse are all examples of actions that reduce the poverty rare. With the exception of getting an education all are actions specifically laid out in scripture. I even think the principle of getting an education/skill is demonstrated in scripture.

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary and all,

    Contrary to popular belief, Christians and members of other religions have lower divorce rates, about 42%, than do the religiously unaffiliated, about 50%. Among Christians, however, there was substantial variation. Catholics are the least likely to have divorced, at 35%, followed by Mainline Protestants (41%), Evangelicals (46%), and Black Protestants (54%).

    But if we want to know whether or not the evangelical church’s teachings affect the actions of its members, perhaps an even more important question is whether cohabitation and divorce rates go down as church attendance goes up. As it turns out, they do, and the change is substantial. As shown in Figure 6.1, of the Evangelicals who rarely if ever attend church, 7% were cohabitating, compared to 5% of the monthly attendees and only 2% of the weekly attendees. ees. Likewise, with divorce, 60% of the never-attendees had been divorced or were separated compared to only 38% of the weekly attendees.

    Bradley R.E. Wright. Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media (Kindle Locations 931-937). Kindle Edition.

    The numbers aren’t as skewed in favor of Christians as we might wish, but the old saw that Christian divorce rates are the same or higher than for non-Christians is just not true — even if it’s a preacher who says it.

    PS — A lot of the misinformation out there re Christians is from the Barna Group. Wright discusses errors on Barna’s methods in some detail in his book. Use Barna data with great caution.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher,

    Thanks for the link. Interesting article — and not surprised that literacy rates were higher than many imagined.

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